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The High Priest and Perfect Sacrifice

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Text: Hebrews 9:11-15, 22-28 (ESV)

Illustration: Saved By His “Worse Enemy”

During the Revolutionary War there lived in Pennsylvania a pastor by the name of Peter Miller. Although the community loved Miller, there was one man, a tavern keeper, named Michael Widman who lived nearby. Widman hated Miller for his Christian life and testimony. In fact, this man violently opposed Miller and ridiculed his followers. Widman was not only a hater of the church, but he was also a vocal Tory (?) and was arrested for treason and sentenced to death.

Instead of celebrating his enemy’s demise, as soon as Miller heard of Widman’s sentence, he set out on foot to visit General Washington who was at Valley Forge. Miller sought to intercede for Widman’s life. Washington listened to the minister’s earnest plea, but told him he didn’t feel he should pardon his friend.

“My friend!” Miller cried. “He is not my friend. In fact, he’s my worst living enemy.”

“What?” the general exclaimed in surprise. “You have walked sixty miles to save the life of your enemy? That, in my judgment, puts the matter in a different light. I will grant him a pardon for your sake.”

General Washington signed the pardon, and Miller quickly left for the place where his neighbor, his enemy, was to be executed. He arrived just as Widman was walking to the scaffold. When the traitor saw Miller, he exclaimed, “Old Peter Miller has come to have his revenge by watching me hang!” But he was astonished as he watched the minister step out of the crowd and produce the pardon which spared his life.

Peter Miller performed a noble act that day. Not many of us would think of saving our worst enemy. Peter Miller did just that. But as amazing as this was, it does not compare to what God has done for us. As a result of our sin, mankind is opposed to God. We are enemies to God. But rather than letting us “hang” for our sins, God has provided the pardon by which we can be saved, though the his only son, Jesus Christ.

Today’s message is about one of the core doctrines of the Christian faith. It is one of the most distinguishing beliefs of Christianity. The doctrine I am talking about is the Atonement. I believe that if we do not get the Atonement right, then we really can’t understand salvation or our need for it.


Atonement Defined

Let us define what we mean by the word Atonement. It is the act of making man right with God. Mankind is sinful, meaning, we have offended God. We probably do not fully understand the nature of our sinful condition? To borrow a Reformation term, mankind is Totally Depraved, which means sin has impacted every aspect of our lives. This does not mean that we can never do anything right, or that there is no good in man. But it does mean that the whole of human nature – our thoughts, our emotions, our ability to reason – have been affected by sin.

However, God is holy, totally void of sin. This means God’s holiness cannot exist with man’s depravity. Also, divine law requires that sin be punished. Like the criminal who opposes the law of man, there is a penalty for man’s sinfulness. But, God is also a loving God and wants to have a relationship with man. In order for that relationship to exist, man’s sin has to be dealt with.

In the OT, the Hebrew word that is most commonly used for atonement is kaphar, which basically means “to cover”. According to this usage, one was delivered from punishment by placing something between one’s sin and God. Man would make a sacrifice to “cover” his sin. God would see the “atoning” sacrifice rather than the sin and the penalty for the sin no longer had to be carried out. Through the OT sacrificial system, God allowed the guilt of sin to be “covered” by the blood of animals. The sacrifice became a substitute for the sinner, and bore the sinner’s guilt. However, man’s sinfulness remained.

In addition to the regular sacrifices throughout the year, one day was also set aside to atone for any deliberate or unintentional sins not yet “covered”. This day was called the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur, as it is referred to today. This day served as a reminder that the daily, weekly and monthly sacrifices made at the altar were not sufficient to atone for sin. On this one day, the high priest, as a representative of the people to God, brought atoning blood into the holy of holies within the temple. The high priest made atonement for “all the iniquities of the children of Israel.” Atonement was first made for the priests because the mediator between God and his people had to be ceremonially clean. In addition, the sanctuary was also cleansed, for it, too, was ceremonially defiled by the presence and ministration of sinful men.[2]

All of this may seem strange. But we read in Hebrews 9:22, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” In Leviticus 17:11 we read, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls.” Blood must be shed to atone for sin.

Yet, Hebrews 10:1 says “the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.” So, while the OT sacrifices were indeed mandated and were of some benefit to man, they were not intended to be permanent. For Hebrews 10:4 says, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Something more than “covering” one’s sins is needed.

In fact, when we read the NT, we understand something different concerning what atonement means. We find that it means “reconciliation”. In fact, one might say that it signifies not atonement but “AT-ONE-MENT” – making two alienated parties at one.[3] The parties of course are God and man. Remember, man’s sin keeps him apart from God, yet God wanted to “reconcile” that situation.

The Problem

There is a problem, though. There is tension between God’s love and God’s holiness. Man is totally depraved and God cannot accept man’s sinful situation. God holiness demands that the sin be removed. Yet, God loves us and wants a relationship with us. We all know what John 3:16 says. But did you know that it really means…

“For God loved the world in this way, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

The way God loved man and resolved man’s condition was through His son, Jesus. The love of God and the holiness of God met at the cross. The cross was the intersection of God’s love and holiness WITH man’s sin and punishment.

To put it another way: Perfect Love of God + Absolute Holiness of God + Total Depravity of Man + Requirement of Divine Law = [SUM] Cross of Christ

Jesus is the fix for our broken relationship with God. This is what we find throughout Scripture, and particularly in the passage we read earlier. Christ has truly resolved the sin problem we have with God.

Christ the High Priest and Perfect Sacrifice

While the book of Hebrews explains the atonement, it also shows that the old Jewish sacrificial system has now been superseded by the cross of Christ. This is why the book is concerned with Jewish readers to not lapse back into Judaism, because only the blood of Christ can truly atone for one’s sins. The OT sacrificial system allowed God to continue with a guilty people because the system typified the cross.[4] But God did not intend to keep that system.

The passage we read earlier reveals some things about Jesus and the atonement:

  1. Christ appeared as high priest (v11) – In the OT, the high priest would enter the temple to make sacrifices on behalf of the people. Christ has done that for us. He is the high priest who takes our sacrifice to God.

  2. Jesus entered “once for all” (v12) – In the OT, the high priest would have to continually atone for the sins of the people. Remember, the Day of Atonement was an annual event. Christ has atoned for our sins once for all, meaning, he will not have to do it again.

  3. Jesus entered by His own blood – In the OT, the high priest brought the blood of the sacrifice to God. Jesus brought his own blood because he was the sacrifice.

  4. His sacrifice secured eternal redemption for mankind – Whereas the OT sacrifices removed the guilt of sin but had to be repeated, Jesus’ sacrifice has purchased eternal redemption for us.

  5. The result was so those who put their trust in Him can serve the living God (v14) – The effect of Jesus’ sacrifice was that we can now serve God and have a relationship with God.

  6. Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant (v15) – In the OT, the high priest was the mediator between God and man. Jesus entered into heaven to appear before God on our behalf. He is now our mediator…the one we go to.

  7. Jesus offered Himself once for all to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (v26) – Again, we read this was a onetime event. Jesus would not need to do it again. The purpose was to put away our sin, not to merely cover it.

Remember what John the Baptist said when Jesus approached him to be baptized: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV) Jesus did not come to cover our sins, but to take them away.

We can basically boil all of this down into two very important statements:

·                     Jesus is our High Priest – there is no other above Him

·                     Jesus is our Perfect Sacrifice – there is no other sacrifice needed

Of course, this begs the question of why Jesus is the consummation of God’s plan to fix man’s condition. Why was it necessary for God to send His only Son as a sacrifice for our sins? The answer lies in who Jesus is. Jesus is completely human. He took the full physical nature and psychological makeup of humanity. He assumed all of what it means to be human. Thus, he was able to redeem all of human nature. In addition, Jesus’ death has sufficient value to truly atone for our sins. Because he is also God, Jesus did not have to die. He was sinless, thus he did not have to pay for any sins. Being fully God and fully man, Jesus could atone for the sins of humankind.[5]

The late president of DTS, Lewis Sperry Chafer, said that Christ’s death is of far greater value to God than to men! No one but God Himself could realize what it means to Him to have the way clear whereby He may, without tarnishing His own holiness, save and justify those who do no more than to believe in Jesus. Chafer also said, “The death of Christ was necessary as the only solution of the problem of evil even within the range of divine possibilities; and there is, therefore, no substitute for it, no optional choice, nor any salvation apart from it.”[6]

The apostle Peter told the high priest Annas, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Jesus is the Way, and the only Way. He said Himself, no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).

When we compare the Day of Atonement to the Cross of Christ, we these contrasts:

Day of Atonement                                            Cross

1.    High Priest is mediator                                  Christ is mediator

2.    High Priest sacrifices for man                        God sacrifices for man

3.    Man unable to approach God                         Man, through Christ, can approach G

4.    Once every year                                           Once for all, never to be repeated

George Ladd, said, a former professor of Fuller Theological Seminary, “The real has come to people in the historical life and death of Jesus of Nazareth.”[7] The OT was a shadow of the real – that is Jesus!

Jesus is himself both the High Priest and the sacrifice that the High Priest offers to God. In effect, Jesus as the High Priest, the only one who can come before God, offers Himself to atone for the sins of man.

Unlike the OT sacrifices, which made nothing perfect, i.e. complete (7:19), the sacrifice of Jesus is able “to save completely those who come to God through Him” (7:25). Perfection is essentially a matter of completion – in particular, the completion of God’s plan of salvation.[8]

When Jesus cried out on the cross, “It is finished!”, he meant it was complete (John 19:30). He paid a debt man could never pay…and would never have to pay again!


Jesus has opened the way into the true spiritual sanctuary; believers everywhere may experience true access to God. Through only Christ’s atoning work may we enter into God’s presence. If this is rejected, there remains no other way.

From this we know…nothing but the blood of Christ can atone for our sins!

Like one of my favorite hymns says:

What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus

What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus

This is good news. Thanks be the God!


[1] Delivered April 27, 2008.

[2]Wood, D. R. W. (1996, c1982, c1962). New Bible Dictionary (104). InterVarsity Press.

[3]Vincent, M. R. (2002). Word studies in the New Testament (3:61-62). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems.

[4] Scofield Reference Bible, pp. 147-148

[5] Erickson, Millard, Systematic Theology, p. 822.

[6] Chafer, Lewis Sperry, Systematic Theology,

[7] Ladd, George Eldon, A Theology of the New Testament. 621

[8] Carson, Moo, & Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament, pp. 393-394.

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